A Few Questions About Tune-Ups…Answered

January 4th, 2016

At Auto Express in Sacramento, CA, we sometimes see customers who have questions about tune-ups. Today, we’re hoping to clear up a few of them:Auto Repair in Sacramento CA

Q: How often does a tune-up need to be performed?

A: Not nearly as often as they did 30 or 40 years ago. In the 60s and 70s, a tune-up involved cleaning the carburetor, setting the idle speed and mixture and possibly rebuilding the carburetor’s internal parts. It was also common to change the spark plugs, replace the plug wires, distributor cap, breaker points and rotor and reset the distributor’s dwell settings. Today, distributors, plug wires, mechanical ignition and carburetors are all things of the past!

Q: So what does a tune-up involve today, then?

A: A typical tune-up today might include replacing the spark plugs, air filter, fuel filter and cabin air filter. The distributor and plug wires of a generation ago have now been replaced with coil-on-plug packs that deliver spark directly to each plug; sometimes these coil packs will fail and need to be replaced. A technician will hook up a code reader to the engine computer’s diagnostic connector to check for trouble codes. Other than that, the tune-up today might also include a check of all the engine and drivetrain fluids and a thorough examination of hoses and belts.

Q: Is the timing belt part of a tune-up?

A: No, but the timing belt should be replaced at the manufacturer’s recommended interval. The timing belt coordinates the opening and closing of valves with the rotation of the crankshaft. On many engines, a broken timing belt can mean that the valves and pistons go out of sync with each other; the pistons travel upward in the cylinder and smash into opened valves, effectively ruining the engine. Note also that, rather than a belt, many vehicles still use a timing chain, which is good for the lifetime of the engine.

Q: So how often does a tune-up need to be done today?

A: Today’s engines are much less maintenance-intensive than cars of a generation ago. The 30,000 mile tune-up of the 60s is now only needed at about every 80,000 or even 100,000 miles. Spark plugs in particular have a much longer service life than they once did.


If you’re noticing problems like lack of power, rough running, an illuminated Check Engine light, rough idle, a tendency to stumble or stall or a drop in fuel economy, it might be time for a tune-up on your vehicle. Don’t just put up with drivability problems like those  -- give us a call at Auto Express in Sacramento, CA, make an appointment and let our techs perform a tune-up on your car! 

  Posted in: Auto Repair 101